Big noise, big screens, supermassive big holes: in the future all gigs will be like this
You should treat this review like the Q scene in a Bond movie, the bit where he’s showing off all the amazing gadgets and weapons he’ll be getting to use in the coming months. You’ll be 007, Muse will be the amazing scientists, the songs will be the inventions, Shepherd’s Bush Empire will be an underground bunker deep in the heart of London and I get to be John Cleese. Which suits me, obviously, but the fact is that this free, fan-club-only show is the sole chance UK fans are going to get to hear these songs live before summer headlining festivals – where the stakes will be raised to the ultimate degree, every night.
Not for nothing do Muse now have ‘Britain’s Best Live Band’ tattooed underneath the barcodes on their necks. The Absolution campaign – and Glastonbury – secured that tag as both salvation and damnation and it means Muse can now never be anything less than mind-fuckingly amazing, ever again. Or the whole thing’s ruined. That is how high the stakes are in Museland right now and they’ve got just one warm-up show to try and realise the ludicrous endeavour that is ‘Black Holes & Revelations’. Were that not enough, the reliable old Muse curse (which last time cut Matt’s face off and broke Chris’ wrist) is out to stop them – at last week’s Hurricane festival in Germany an apocalypse came down from the heavens, calling off the show and raining on Muse’s equipment, meaning they don’t even know if it’s going to work properly tonight. See, it’s life or death.
The show opens, as does the album, with ‘Take A Bow’, with Matt’s falsetto warning how we must “feed the Hex”, and will surely “burn in hell for your sins”. And then BOOM! – we’re into ‘Bliss’. Morgan Nicholls (Chris’ V2004 stand-in) is back again, this time on keyboards to help do justice to ‘Take A Boy’ and the next-up ‘Map Of The Problematique’, whose brave new direction – a Blade Runner android fronting Depeche Mode – has provided a whole new conundrum for them to crack live. In truth, they’re not quite there yet; impressive-yet-cautious recreations of the album versions rather than the reimagined megatrons they’ll be after a couple of months on the road. Still, it’s all relative; next single ‘Starlight’, a heroic U2 chorus spray-painted metallic pink, is so lovingly realised that NME almost does a little sex-wee. Yet in sci-fi’s most unlikely twist since girls started watching Doctor Who, Muse have returned indeed a sexy band, no longer stigmatised as something boys did alone in their bedrooms. It’s mainly down to sultry single ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ of course, but they’ve relaxed into their Rock’n’Roll Years – gone are the bowler hats and billowing white capes. It’s a lithe Bellamy tonight, dressed in black and white braces, still getting it that little bit wrong with a red emo flash in his hair. And then – yikes – just when you’ve accepted them as T-Rex, a droid places a white piano in the corner and they play the world’s first prog-barbershop jam, ‘A Soldier’s Poem’. That’s followed by their operatic upgrade of Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ and your senses judder slightly, reminding you that even though they’re toying briefly with Earth-based matters, their souls will always be rightfully away with the fairies. And then it just doesn’t stop: ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, ‘Hysteria’, ‘New Born’, ‘Time Is Running Out’ – BANG! BANG! BANG! – we already know their twists and turns, but it doesn’t make them any less nailbiting to go through again. The incredible power of Bellamy’s lungs is hardly news anymore, but ‘Invincible’, the album’s military-paced, emotional centre, really does take it further than ever before.
For deranged, Butch-Cassidy-battles-the-Martians finale it’s ‘Knights Of Cydonia’ – six minutes long and courageously flung out as the first American single. Bellamy’s voice gallops along thunderously, before the whole thing transmutes, every single fist punctures the air and the words of doom – “NO-ONE’S GONNA TAKE ME ALIVE! YOU AND I MUST FIGHT TO SURVIVE!” – explode from everyone’s lungs and on to the screens. Oh, the screens, we didn’t mention the screens. The set has been tarted up like a ’60s version of the future and there’s these grids where subliminal messages have surely flashed during the set and aliens have almost certainly been pressed behind, struggling to escape their parallel world. It. Looks. Amazing. But back to ‘Knights…’ – everyone has a collective AC/DC moment; Bellamy goes a bit foetal and kisses the floor, any residual doubt melts away and the pit descends into a good old, melodramatic, heavy metal RUCK! As final showdowns go, it’s as spectacular as they get; it’s Knebworth-via-Gatecrasher; it’s Live8 on Mars; it’s the end of The Man With The Golden Gun. And crucially, it’s a victory; mouths agape, reputation secure, band ready to vibe up for what have the potential to be the most amazing festival shows in the whole history of festivals. Bring it on.